Meet Italian born Chef Renato De Pirro!
Houston, TX ... When you ask Tuscan-born chef Renato De Pirro what the most beautiful place in the house is, it shouldn't come as a surprise when his response is, "the kitchen."
Even if De Pirro wasn't a chef, given his strong Italian heritage and family customs, he has fond memories of creating long-lasting traditions with his mother and grandmother in the kitchen of their Tuscany home. "Italians are about family, cooking and tradition," says De Pirro. "The kitchen is where we spent all of our time with family and friends, creating recipes, enjoying wines and creating meaningful traditions and techniques that I still rely on and utilize to this day, both professionally and personally" - which is why Renato De Pirro was such a perfect fit as the executive chef for Hotel Granduca and its award-winning signature restaurant, Ristorante Cavour.
Considered one of the best Italian restaurants in Houston, and a recipient of the prestigious Ospitalita Seal, Ristorante Cavour now has the distinct and unique advantage over its competition, of not only having a Tuscan-born executive chef at the helm, but an inspiring owner who is equally as passionate and knowledgeable about true Italian cuisine and tradition - Giorgio Borlenghi. Originally from Milan and President of the Interfin Companies of Houston, Borlenghi is the visionary behind some of Houston's most renowned commercial and residential developments including the exclusive Uptown Park and the Forbes Four Star Hotel Granduca. Based on his own northern Italian roots and customs, Borlenghi is a firm believer in creating an authentic and memorable dining experience based on the same revered family traditions and values from his native Italy.
Bringing those values back into the kitchen is equally as important to De Pirro. "The best part of preparing Italian cuisine is tradition - every region, province, community and valley has different traditions and eating habits. I've always believed it's critical to study and understand the cuisines of the past in order to work the present and build the future," says De Pirro. Hence, when he's not in the kitchen himself, De Pirro immerses himself in reading, researching and studying historical Italian cuisines from the ancient Roman times to the cuisines of the Renaissance.
The culture of Italian cuisine is a staple in and of itself in the culinary world, and with more than 20 years of exemplary experience throughout Europe, South America and the United States, De Pirro has successfully combined his traditional Italian culinary principles and extensive travel experience, allowing him to continually expand his skill set and develop his own personal style. The core of De Pirro's style is firmly rooted in understanding the origins and finely fragmented diversities of Italian cuisine.
"Every chef builds their own style through their own personal experiences, and I've been blessed to have had a variety of opportunities that have helped shape and hone my career and culinary techniques," says De Pirro.
De Pirro started building his culinary style when he took his first bite of culinary training by helping his grandmother cook in the kitchen at the young age of eight years old. And what better mentor and first "chef" from which to learn, than from an Italian grandmother whose own ancestry and cooking techniques are what De Pirro thrives on and researches to this day.
In his early teens, one of De Pirro's first summer jobs was as a bartender/server. Although an informal introduction to kitchen operations and chefs, the experience sparked De Pirro to pursue a career in the culinary industry.
At 16 years old, he entered culinary school in Spoleto, Italy, and graduated with a Certified Chef De Cuisine diploma. During his tenure at culinary school, De Pirro had the opportunity and privilege to work under the tutelage of Gennaro Villella, one of Italy's most renowned chefs, whom De Pirro considers his culinary mentor. Coincidentally, Villella later collaborated with Sirio Maccioni, proprietor of the world-renown Le Cirque in New York, as the creative force behind Maccioni's two other famed restaurants, one of which being Osteria del Circo at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas, where De Pirro was most recently the Executive Chef prior to joining Ristorante Cavour and Hotel Granduca.
After graduating from culinary school, De Pirro's culinary journey included various summer jobs in Tuscany and Milan, or sharpening his skills in a butcher shop and crafting his techniques in a pastry shop. "I worked with a great pastry chef from Milan who introduced me to Italian pasticerrias and the fine art of perfecting Italian desserts," De Pirro recalls. At that time in his life, the handsome, young 22 year-old chef, however, struggled to balance a social life that might end at 2 or 3 a.m.; having to be at work by 4 a.m. to create intricate tasty delicacies; and catching up on whatever sleep he could on a seaside beach. After a year of perfecting pastries, De Pirro spent a year traveling through South America on an Italian cruise line as a chef, putting in 18-hour days and learning how to prepare meals for 2,000 people. De Pirro reflects upon those years with a smile, knowing that each experience would eventually become a key ingredient to his success as a chef.
His culinary adventures continued throughout Italy, De Pirro opened up his own boutique restaurant in Monte, Argentario, Italy, called Ristorante La Ribotta, an experience that allowed him the freedom to express his own vision and put to use the culinary talents and techniques he had developed to date. During those three years, De Pirro also quickly developed the art of learning the complex nuances of being a business owner versus just a chef, and having to understand and oversee every aspect of running and operating a restaurant. The dual duty he recalls was an "eye opening" experience that taught him the value of taking ownership and holding himself accountable as a businessman. To this day, De Pirro believes that chefs who have owned their own restaurants have a different demeanor and vision about them, and he can instantly tell when he meets a culinary colleague if they've owned their own business or not.
After appearing in a number of guest chef appearances on Italy's most watched television network, Rai Uno, and earning a silver medal as part of Italy's World Cup Culinary Team, De Pirro was ready to expand his culinary horizons across the Atlantic to the United States, landing in "Sin City" in 1999. And what better restaurant for an Italian born chef to set his sights upon, other than the famed Valentino Las Vegas in The Venetian Hotel & Casino. According to De Pirro, Valentino's menu reflected more of the northern Italian cuisines, and he remembers building the original menu around the different regions and their specialties, once again, falling back on his grandmother's traditions and his love for researching ancient Italian culinary customs.
Over a five year span, De Pirro quickly worked his way up through the ranks at Valentino, from line cook to chef de cuisine/manager, under the guidance of award-winning chef, Luciano Pellegrini. De Pirro credits Pellegrini with giving him the opportunity to grow in a fast-paced environment managing up to 80 chefs and cooks at a time, overseeing multiple restaurants, controlling inventory and labor costs, maintaining food costs, planning menus and minimizing waste - to name a few. "He always waited for me to ask for a promotion and more responsibilities. And when I did, he knew I was ready to advance to the next level. He taught me a lot and I was extremely fortunate," says De Pirro.
Much to his dismay, when he realized his mentor, friend and boss, Pellegrini, wouldn't be retiring anytime soon, De Pirro moved on to open up Terra Rossa, a fine dining Italian restaurant within the Red Rock Resort, Spa & Casino, also in Las Vegas. The restaurant thrived under his leadership as executive chef and manager, earning it Best Italian Restaurant in Las Vegas for three consecutive years. During the same time period, De Pirro simultaneously served as corporate executive chef for the Italian branded restaurants of Station Casinos, the resort's operator and gaming company based in Las Vegas. In this role he developed new culinary and interior design concepts for seven of the company's Italian restaurants.
By this time, De Pirro had earned the notoriety and respect of fellow chefs and restaurant owners alike, catching the attention of the famed Maccioni family, renowned world-wide for their award-winning restaurants in New York, and now Las Vegas at the Bellagio. It was almost as though his journey with, and culinary education from, Villella, had brought him full circle. Not surprisingly, De Pirro was hired to oversee Osteria del Circo, the Maccioni's much heralded and revered Italian restaurant in which Villella played an integral role with the family in determining the restaurant's initial design and menu concept.
The rest is history. The Borlenghi family, Hotel Granduca and Chef De Pirro have since joined forces, traditions and solid Italian customs to take Houston's Ristorante Cavour to the next level. Locals shouldn't be surprised if they encounter Chef De Pirro on a Vespa gathering fresh produce from some of Houston's renowned farmers markets in a bountiful basket for a night's menu at Ristorante Cavour. Enhancing the flavor of the simplest ingredients, knowledge of the food, the preparation and the flavors - and most importantly preserving tradition - are the key ingredients that make Chef De Pirro and Ristorante Cavour a recipe for success!